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The Washingtom Post reports today on the missing 800-lb gorilla in the national debate on the Iraq War. Hillary Clinton has largely made herself AWOL from the debate, testing various formulations of vague anti-Bush criticisms without tipping over into anti-war rhetoric. That has led to criticism from both liberals and conservatives and left most wondering exactly where she stands on the war and the strategy needed. Hillary, however, isn't talking about it:
At a time when politicians in both parties have eagerly sought public forums to debate the war in Iraq, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) has kept in the shadows.
Clinton has stayed steadfastly on a centrist path, criticizing President Bush but refusing to embrace the early troop withdrawal options that are gaining rapid favor in her party. This careful balance is drawing increasing scorn from liberal activists, frustrated that one of the party's leading lights has shown little appetite to challenge Bush's policy more directly and embrace a plan to set a timetable for bringing U.S. forces home.
Clinton is confronting the Democratic Party's long-standing dilemma on national defense, with those harboring national ambitions caught between the passions of the antiwar left and political concerns that they remain vulnerable to charges of weakness from the Republicans if they embrace the party's base. But some Democrats say, the left not withstanding, her refusal to advocate a speedy exit from Iraq may reflect a more accurate reading of public anxiety about the choices now facing the country.
In truth, Clinton is doing nothing of the kind. She's keeping her mouth shut as much as she can on the topic in order to avoid getting drawn into the battle -- a kind of political cowardice that will likely backfire on her in 2008. She hasn't confronted anything or anyone, at least not in the way that Joe Lieberman has, and to a lesser extent Steny Hoyer. Those two have attempted to resurrect the Scoop Jackson wing of the Democratic Party, taking a realistic view of the progress in Iraq and recognizing the stakes involved.
Lieberman hasn't gone in for the "if I knew then what I know now" ploy that Kerry and others have used over the past two years. First, as everyone saw from the results of the 2004 elections, that dog doesn't hunt. In 1998, safely part of a Democratic majority, all of these people voted to make regime change in Iraq the official US policy and used not just WMD but Saddam's genocide, oppression of his people, and the promise of change that democracy would bring as reasons for their vote. Hillary's husband signed it into law. The only two things that changed since 1998 was that the Republicans took over the government and, after 9/11 and the realization that threats couldn't fester into imminence before taking action, demanded that Saddam meet the terms of the cease-fire and his international obligations -- and then implemented what had been US policy for five years.
Lieberman says he'd still vote for that action, regardless, because the world is better off without Saddam in power in the Middle East. The counter argument inevitably leads back to arguing for Saddam's continued rule in Iraq, in continued defiance of his obligations. Hillary has nothing to say on that topic. "Confronting"? What a laugh! She's busy retreating, pulling her own version of a cut-and-run in order to save her own political skin -- and her allies and opponents have all begun to realize it.
If she has a plan for Iraq, this is the moment to offer it, because events are about to overtake the Democrats very quickly. The voting for the new, constitutional National Assembly has already started. The insurgencies have started to fall apart, struggling against each other while both lose relevance in an Iraq where even the Sunnis have begun to embrace the ballot over the bullet. By 2008, the only perspective will be retrospect, and Hillary's subterranean record will not provide much opportunity for "told you so" in either direction. Kerry, Dean, Pelosi, and others will be discredited -- but only the Liebermans and the Hoyers will reap the benefits. The debate dodgers will have little or no credibility and will have exposed themselves as singularly lacking in leadership when their party most needed it.
Hillary, in other words, exposes herself as a lightweight. If she doesn't want to talk about policy, then her only reason for being in politics is sheer greed for power. Democrats should remember that, both in 2006 and in 2008.
UPDATE: "regime change in" Iraq, not Iran. Thanks, Blank:NoOne for catching that. (Note to self: find eyeglasses before posting.)Sphere It View blog reactions
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